Rapid economic development in East Asia in the 1980s–1990s saw a revivification of the idea of “Asia,” a region no longer regarded as backward. This article examines the East Asian visual arts scene, one of the most visible sites of cultural interaction in which the idea of contemporary New Asia was curated into “being” in Japanese, Australian, and Singapore museums. A key goal was the attempt to imagine a cosmopolitan-multicultural Asia able to transcend national boundaries, even as there was the awareness that the region's cultural diversity and history of political fractures—primarily between China and Japan—made this endeavor difficult. The “contemporary” in this context is simultaneously a critical (or postcolonial) modernity that embraces notions of multiculturalism for “rethinking” Asia and a fractured modernity that does not quite manage to be a break from modern East Asian history. Two significant moments in the exhibitions of Asia are examined. The first is the Fukuoka Art Museum's First Asian Artists Exhibition (1979–1980); the second is the Japan Foundation's and the Tokyo City Opera Art Gallery's Under Construction: New Dimensions of Asian Art (2000–2002). A “global-regional” curatorial framework, as opposed to the “international-regional” framework of 1979–1980, stood for that attempt to think of the potentialities of a critical modernity in the light of a more economically integrated regionalism.

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